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'Sin' business female CEOs share their tips

by Sari Staver

Nenna Joiner, left, owner of Feelmore Adult Gallery, and Fivestar, co-founder of Luster Productions, were among the women executives at a recent forum who discussed success in "sin businesses." Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland
Nenna Joiner, left, owner of Feelmore Adult Gallery, and Fivestar, co-founder of Luster Productions, were among the women executives at a recent forum who discussed success in "sin businesses." Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland  

A group of women business founders who work in the fields of cannabis and sex concluded that "sin pays" at a recent panel discussion in San Francisco.

Six women participated in the panel discussion May 4, organized by Lydia Friedman, CEO of http://www.GirlGroove.com, a soon-to-launch sex-positive website. Over 100 people, including a handful of men, attended "Sex, Drugs, Success - An Evening with Female CEOs of Sin Businesses," held at Covo, a co-working space in the South of Market district.

"This is a night of badass successful women who've drawn their own blueprints for success with a lot of inspiration and perspiration," said Friedman in her online advertisement.

Friedman said she got the idea to sponsor the panel after seeing how few women-owned businesses received venture funding for their start-ups.

"I've met so many successful CEOs who've built their business through grit and determination," Friedman said in introducing the panel.

Amanda Reiman, Ph.D., vice president of community relations for the cannabis company Flow Kana, said she has always been "fascinated by how people decide what is deviant" and what isn't.

Reiman, who has worked in the cannabis industry for over 20 years, said, "morals and values ebb and flow. What is sinful and naughty today" won't always be so, she said, citing the case of the cannabis industry, which has entered the mainstream following voter approval legalizing recreational use of the product in several states, including California.

Nenna Joiner, the founder and owner of Oakland's Feelmore Adult Gallery, which sells adult pleasure products, urged the attendees to "normalize" their business by being visible within their community, suggesting that they volunteer their time, rather than just write a check.

"Find a place for yourself and don't hide what you do," said Joiner, an African-American lesbian who is currently raising money for the AIDS/LifeCycle ride.

Before entering the adult industry, Joiner worked in technology, where she earned a six-figure salary. "I gave it all up to start my own business," she said.

She urged women who want to start a business to "quit everything else you're doing" to pursue the dream.

"It won't be easy or pretty," she said, "but I had the best time of my life" once I dedicated myself to something I wanted.

Fivestar, a lesbian who uses one name, is a co-founder of Luster Productions and is known for directing and producing BDSM films for http://www.Kink.com. She said that entering the adult film industry seemed natural to her, "having grown up queer, which is considered forbidden and a sin" by society, she said. "Throughout my life, I always wanted to push the boundaries."

"These are amazing times" for women who want to work directing and producing adult videos, said Fivestar. She urged women to make connections in the industry by networking.

"That's how I made the best business connections," she said.

Dale Sky Jones, CEO and chancellor of Oaksterdam, Oakland's cannabis educational facility, said she has always considered herself "naughty," in part because she always liked pornography as well as "things that made me feel good."

The cannabis industry has gained more mainstream credibility than the sex industry, said Jones. "It's not about sex and drugs," she explained. These are both "important civil rights issues."

Serene Martinez, founder and CEO of Pink Bunny, a sex toy store, said, "I sell joy." In starting the business, Martinez said she was "determined to do something better" than the existing outlets selling sex toys.

"We only sell non-toxic products that everyone can afford," she said. Now in the business for over 20 years, Martinez added, "We try to do our best to have only the highest quality" products.

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